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IU prof turns to ADR to encourage public participation in government

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The laws designed to allow members of the public to have a voice in their government are actually stifling the conversation, according to an Indiana University Bloomington expert.

Lisa Blomgren Amsler, professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is the lead author of, “Making Public Participation Legal,” a report by the National Civic League with support from the Deliberative Democracy Consortium. The study warns that in local and state proceedings across the country, “democracy is dwindling, three minutes at a time.”

Amsler and her colleagues note that the decades-old public meeting format where officials make a presentation followed by citizens having three minutes to ask questions or make comments provides little opportunity for interaction or deliberation.

“When combined with other kinds of engagement opportunities, traditional public hearings can work, mainly by providing a sense of closure and validation to public debate on an issue,” the report stated. “But since our legal framework supports only the bare minimum of deliberation, the pressure of dealing with contentious policy issues falls squarely on a format that isn’t up to the task.”

In turn, the relationship between citizens and their public institutions can fray, which can undermine the legitimacy and financial stability of government.

A working group that included representatives from the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association and the National League of Cities developed new legal tools for public participation in local and state governments. Amsler said the tools drew inspiration from the alternative dispute resolution laws.

“Simply by authorizing public agencies to use mediation, facilitation and other ADR processes, those laws resulted in a dramatic proliferation of these practices at every level of the legal system,” Amsler stated in the report.

Key recommendations from the study for improving public participation include:
• Giving residents, decision-makers and other stakeholders regular opportunities – in a variety of places such as online forums, public meetings, and gatherings in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces – to build relationships, discuss issues and celebrate community
• Inviting people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to participate so the same citizens don’t dominate meetings
• Ensuring participation has a tangible and readily apparent impact on policy decision, public plans and public budgets
• Appointing a “public participation coordinator” within City Hall and setting annual participation goals
 

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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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